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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Why I stopped shopping at Trader Joe's (and, no, haughty customers aren't cause)

HANUKKAH CROWD? On Monday, the first day of Hanukkah, the parking lot at Trader Joe's, 440 Route 17 north in Paramus, was packed, and I couldn't find a space. The store opened in 2007.
A woman in an old Toyota Camry, left, waits for the black SUV, right, to back out of a space. As I circled the lot to leave, I was upset to see a Trader Joe's employee, wearing the store's signature Hawaiian shirt, find an empty space, park and jump out of her car to go to work.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- If you're a food lover watching your cholesterol and intake of salt and sugar, shopping at Trader Joe's is like negotiating a minefield.

Especially during the holidays, the specialty grocer offers snacks, drinks, meat, poultry and seafood -- such as bacon-wrapped scallops with brown-sugar glaze -- that you might want to avoid, even in moderation.

Many are described in detail in Trader Joe's Holiday Guide 2018, which was mailed to customers, and the hype is unrelenting.

"If there is a magic formula for making a truly craveable snack...," begins the spiel for Butter Toffee Pretzels.

Then, you might read this, "Jingle Jangle is an only-at-Trader Joe's assortment of a whole bunch of things that taste terrific, bathed in chocolate."


Loyal shopper

I shopped at the cramped Trader Joe's outpost on Route 17 north in Paramus for years, even though the narrow aisles and impatient customers, mostly women, made it almost impossible to stop and read nutrition labels without getting rear-ended by their shopping carts.

I was a loyal fan of the low-sodium version of a 100% vegetable juice; Joe's O's, a whole-grain oat cereal with only 1 gram of sugar per serving; organic whole wheat pasta and organic sweet potatoes; uncured, antibiotic-free hot dogs and cold cuts, and a few other items.

A big negative is that Trader Joe's doesn't sell fresh fish, and a lot of the prepared food in the refrigerated cases leaves me cold. 

Besto pesto

For example, Trader Giotto's Genova Pesto bombs when compared to the Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale. Both are refrigerated products.

Trader Joe's also ignored Consumer Reports when the magazine called on the chain to sell only antibiotic-free meat and poultry -- one reason you have to scrutinize labels when shopping there.

And Trader Joe's has never given customers a dime for bringing a reusable bag; Whole Foods Market remains the only supermarket in New Jersey that does.

Still, Trader Joe's is wildly popular with Orthodox Jews, who are drawn by the hundreds of kosher items sold there.

A Kosher Trader Joes Facebook page, set up in 2015, has more than 28,000 members, far outnumbering those on a similar Kosher Costco page.

I wonder whether they would remain loyal to the specialty grocer, if they knew Trader Joe's has been 
owned by Aldi, a German company, since 1979.

Store expanded

The Paramus Trader Joe's finally was expanded, and a new sign was put up last April. The wider aisles gave shoppers like me breathing room.

But when I tried to shop there on Monday, the parking lot used by customers and employees alike was packed, and nearing gridlock. 

I beat a hasty retreat to Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Whole Foods has a bigger selection, fresh fish from the best seafood counter in North Jersey, more organic produce, wine and special deals for Amazon Prime members like me.

I don't think I'll ever go back to Trader Joe's.

PRIME DEALS: This sign lists some of the discounts for Amazon Prime members at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.
SWEET! A 3-pound bag of Sweet Potatoes grown in New Jersey are only $2.39 at Whole Foods Market, compared to $2.99 at the nearby ShopRite supermarket. I bake them at 350 degrees until the natural sugar oozes out of them or cut them up, boil them, drain and mash them with extra-virgin olive oil and seasonings.
FROM ITALY: A 1-pound box of Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti has gone up to $1.69 from $1.49 at Whole Foods Market, but that's still a good deal, and whole wheat pasta has a lot more fiber than conventional.
DINNER: I prepared a red sauce with canned tuna, sardines and anchovies in a food processor; added crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine, dried Italian herbs, and red-pepper flakes, and brought the sauce to a boil in a large, covered pan. Then, I added a pound of organic whole wheat spaghetti, al dente after 10 minutes in boiling water with a pinch of salt.

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